What makes Japanese food in LA special?

Hello! Long time, first time.

I’m working on a somewhat-comprehensive guide to Japanese food in LA, and I’ve always loved how much this board is super passionate, knowledgeable and opinionated about Japanese cuisine in general (from Mori’s amazing shari to why Ramen Roll was so bad lol).

So my question is: what topics do you think the food media misses when discussing Japanese food in LA? Underrated restaurants, overlooked chefs, unappreciated dishes, whatever. Or just things you think the average diner needs to understand to really grasp the scene. Curious to hear your thoughts…

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i think the Food Media never really looks at cities or areas like Gardena and Torrance, there are so many mom and pop places of Japanese food in that area that kind of exist just for the Japanese. (Serving the community i guess). I havent been in a while but places like Jidaiya Ramen, Izekaya Hachi, Torihei. Really Different places like Can-Zo (initial concept was you pick one of the imported European canned food from the shelf and they either cook it or prepare it for you), they have otherthings on their small menu. But it has been awhile since ive been there. The hole in the wall Dive bars, like Suzuran, Cherrystones, Donna’s. (some even have free food on certain nights that they offer to their customers like Chili Rice just for having a drink at their bar). The Hostess bars where the Japanese Salarymen go to unwind after eating at an Izekaya.

i don’t thinki answered your questions but here is my 2 cents anyway :slight_smile:

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My 2 bits:
The food media spends too much time on sushi and ramen (way too much) with little attention to yakitori, udon, soba, mom-pop izakaya, beef places, tempura places, tonkatsu places or just covering the amazing awesomeness of our Japanese Markets.

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Hi @g_sny (Garrett Snyder),

Looking forward to your L.A. Weekly article. :slight_smile:

Pretty much what @CiaoBob and @Hungrydrunk said. Most media coverage seems to really hone in on Sushi and Ramen (which is understandable), but there’s so much more to Japanese food than that.

I think things like Izakaya can absolutely be approachable to the average diner (“Japanese Tapas”), small plates of cooked deliciousness (stewed pork belly, a nice broiled buttery fish fillet with Saikyo Miso, fried chicken morsels, etc.). Yakitori / Kushiyaki (little roasted skewers) are also quite approachable and should be covered more. Mom and pop shops.

And even Japanese confectionary / dessert places are wonderful and excellent like Patisserie Chantilly and Sakura-ya / Chikara Mochi, etc.

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The majority of Japanese nationals consider high end sushi to be a serious splurge. They totally understand the quality and skills involved. But considering that the quality of the basic ingredients for sushi is pretty high and accessible already in Japan, most in traditional family matrices will take the time and effort to make it themselves, or just go to the local sushi-ya. This includes the kaiten-zushi-ya (conveyor belt sushi). The super-high quality/rare/unique stuff is for the elite chefs to serve to their diners.

Sure, this approach is not going to be the Jiro-type experience, but the standard for quality on average is much higher in Japan. So even “lower brow” can be more than acceptable.

Today’s average Japanese consumer is more parsimonious than the previous generation. Because Japan’s economy has been relatively stagnant for a while, so many have been cutting back on what they consider to be non-essential spending, thus the hesitation on big ticket meals and acceptance of alternatives. The same goes for designer/higher end clothes and accessories - once considered near-essentials. The 70s-early 90s were boom years. Now, the population is crashing and most are hanging tight to their liquid assets for fear of losing it with little chance of regaining it.

When asking one of my cousins in Japan (whose husband is a doctor) why she doesn’t splurge often, her response was one word. “Bakarashii-yo!” This roughly translates to, “foolish, frivolous, idiotic.”

I get similar responses from our neighbors who are from the old country. “Why pay that kind of crazy money when I can make it myself?”

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Sums up my relationship with LA dining scene.

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You must either be a godly cook or have terrible taste in restaurants.

Since you’re posting on this board, I can only assume the former.

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The OP is asking about Los Angeles.

this doesn’t answer the question but might be considered germane; consider the impact of the three major japanese auto makers leaving the area (and taking away a large portion of the ethnic population base); as a result, a non-trvial number of japanese restaurants have opened in the SGV catering to the chinese demographic with significant disposable income. personally, i try to factor in the target demographic when evaluating a restaurant and its menu.

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This was my thought, as well. I think paying for an expensive salad is silly since we can easily souce the component ingredients quite readily in LA, but, for anything to requires chopping or cooking, I couldn’t come close to the quality or consistency (and the speed and efficiency of the cooks).

But, back to the topic… I certainly know a lot less about Japanese food than many/most on the board, but I think what makes it special is the sense of history and the (for lack of a better word) emotion that accompanies the food. Even at a mom-and-pop place, there’s care that’s taken in presenting the food, the pride in the prep, and the sense of graciousness that accompanies the service is as much as part of the experience as is the actual taste of the food itself). And the feeling is that this has all been passed down from generation to generation.

JMO.

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I get similar responses from our neighbors who are from the old country. “Why pay that kind of crazy money when I can make it myself?”

Just giving the Japanese perspective. This applies here as well. Mori, Shunji et al are NOT in Torrance/Gardena for a reason. This end of town has the demographic - not the South Bay. Why? Please see above.

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I forgot to mention and thought I’d add this. The first three responses in this thread were commenting on how sushi and ramen get a ton of “air time.”

With sushi, the bulk is the “high art” kind. My first thought was how much broader this category is than the paradigm we mostly discuss at FTC. I get why, but it seems to disqualify the rest of this category, and thought of how it plays out in Japan as well as the Japanese-ist areas here in LA. Couple that with:what @Hungrydrunk, @CiaoBob and @Chowseeker1999 said, and it seems that higher end sushi seems to be far too heavily weighted considering how much more others actually consume of this cuisine.

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What makes Japanese food in LA special?

They got Japanese proprietors.

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Butadofu
Nabeyaki udon
Sanma
Oyakodon
Tendon (bonus points if there is a tendon with egg cooked into the rice)

And one thing I would like is for food media to pronounce the food and dishes correctly. I think a responsible media outlet would at the least not butcher pronunciations. Not really a big deal but I always find it funny how irresponsible food media is at this.

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One angle:

There are 3 big names in Japanese food distribution in LA: JFC, Mutual Trading Company, and Nishimoto Trading (Wismettac).

All three are rotting from the inside out.
Visa dependency, nepotism, sexism, labor issues, prejudice, and flat-out racism.

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in other words, authentic.

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What does that mean? What are they distributing?

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everything. nori, alcohol, rice, condiments, etc.

they are business to business suppliers, importing products from Japan.

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Big bags of rice, tubs of soy sauce, konbu, bonito flakes, frozen fish, soup bases, condiments, sake, beer, mediocrity, wooden skewers, binchotan charcoal, sushi display cases, knives, etc.

Mutual’s Catalog: http://lamtc.com/publish20140721/files/assets/basic-html/index.html#1
JFC’s Catalog: https://www.jfc.com/#/food-service/list
Nishimoto Catalog: http://www.wismettacusa.com/our-products/

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From reading this board one would conclude that Japanese food in LA is extremely over hyped as authentic and awesome, but in reality only a poor facsimile of what is eaten in Japan.

So I suppose that would be a good focus for your article: the spurious authenticity of Japanese food in LA.

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